Relentless growth among group operators had driven outlet numbers upwards, which was offset by a drop in independently run businesses - which could be in for a 'tough' year, according to foodservice consultancy Horizons.
Horizons managing director Peter Backman said: "What's new is the fact that, during the past few years, the bigger players – managed pub groups and branded restaurant chains – have been expanding whilst the rest of the market, at best, has been growing slightly."
Growth in the number of food-serving outlets was strongest in the pub sector during the past 10 years, with the number of pub restaurants whose food sales exceeded their wet sales, increasing 135% from 2,600 in 2001 to 6,100 in 2014.
However, Backman told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser there could potentially be a danger of some groups expanding beyond their reach.
"Like-for-like sales are falling slightly so that means operators are going to rely more on new site openings for growth but it's difficult to find new sites at an affordable rent."
While independent operators and small groups who weathered the recession had been "toughened in the fire" when less successful businesses had failed, they were not in an ideal position, he added.
"[Independents] are in a weak position because larger operators can play tunes on prices and getting good sites."
Eating-out formats would continue to blur as businesses strive under pressure to adapt successful ideas from other concepts throughout the year, Backman said.
"I suspect pubs are going to be looking at things like becoming more like coffee shops. Some pub chains (eg, Brains and Fuller’s) have developed coffee shop concepts already."
Managed pub groups were in the ideal position to adapt because they had resources and flexibility within their sites, he said, adding that pubs may also begin to see the restaurant sector encroach on some of their trade as more restaurants begin to facilitate casual drinking and embrace 'wine bar' style formats.
However, this 'blurring' of concepts would not last forever, he said.
"Longer term, you'll get clarity because people will work out what works and what doesn’t."